Last year, I was in the audience for a panel discussion at a professional conference. Every single member of the panel was a balding middle-aged man. It was, as several members of the audience pointed out, cringe-making.
It has reached the stage where the low number of women in the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons strikes me the same way.
You can say in our defence that we do not have safe seats into which we can parachute female candidates. You can say we had plenty of women candidates in promising seats at the last election – but the problem is that we did not win them. You can say we are selecting plenty of women in seats that look promising next time around.
Now Nick Clegg, according to today’s Independent, is considering imposing all-woman shortlists on the party.
That, of course, is not in Nick’s gift. He would have to convince the party conference to support the measure.
And my heart is not in the idea. My ideal is still Liberal Democrat members selecting the best candidate for the seat, irrespective of sex, race or anything else.
But if you feel we have reached the point where Something Must Be Done, then I would much rather see all-woman shortlists than the Leadership Programme we have at present as the solution to this problem.
This is for two reasons. The first is that it involves the party establishment picking favourite sons and daughters who will then expect to be provided with agreeable seats to fight. This gives that establishment too much power, and I would rather see candidates fighting their way up from the bottom. There is also the point that some of those chosen, for the initial intake at least, seemed to be doing very well without any special help from the top.
More fundamentally, the Leadership Programme fails to challenge the party sufficiently. It says, in effect, that women candidates are not as good, but with the proper training they can be just as good as white men. What looks radical at the outset turns out to be deeply conservative.
When you set it against all those faults, it is hard to argue that all-woman shortlists would not be an improvement.
This post first appeared on Liberal England.